The Wires

The Ledes

Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

Hill: "The Defense Department accidentally sent live anthrax to labs in nine states and is working with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to contain it, the Pentagon said Wednesday. 'The Department of Defense is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their investigation of the inadvertent transfer of samples containing live Bacillus anthracis, also known as anthrax, from a DoD lab in Dugway, Utah, to labs in nine states,' said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman."

AP: "A second submariner has pleaded guilty to sharing videos of female officers undressing for a shower, continuing a case that a prosecutor calls a 'black eye' for the Navy's integration of women into the nation's sub fleet.... Electronics technician Joseph Bradley entered pleas Wednesday in a court-martial trial. He was sentenced to 30 days' confinement and a reduction in rank.... On Tuesday, missile technician Charles Greaves received two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge for making the videos. Five more male sailors face charges in the case."

Public Service Announcement

Washington Post (May 22): "A salmonella outbreak that’s probably linked to raw tuna from sushi has sickened at least 53 people across nine states — the majority in Southern California, health authorities said."

White House Live Video
May 28

11:05 am ET: President Obama receives the annual hurricane season outlook & preparedness briefing in Miami, Florida (audio only)

Go to


New York Times: "Charter Communications is near a deal to buy Time Warner Cable for about $55 billion, people with direct knowledge of the talks said on Monday, a takeover that would create a new powerhouse in the rapidly consolidating American cable industry.... The potential acquisition of Time Warner Cable completes a lengthy quest by Charter and its main backer, the billionaire John C. Malone, to break into the top tier of the American broadband industry. If completed, the transaction would be the latest in a series of mergers remaking the market for broadband Internet and cable television in the United States." ...

     ... Update: "Charter Communications agreed on Tuesday to buy its much larger rival Time Warner Cable for $56.7 billion in a deal that would transform the company into one of America’s largest cable and broadband operators."

Washington Post: "One of the earliest known copies of the Ten Commandments was written in soot on a strip of goatskin found among the trove of biblical material known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, widely considered to be one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. Penned on parchment by an unknown scribe more than 2,000 years ago, the scroll fragment is ... so fragile that its custodians rarely permit it to be moved from the secure vault where it rests in complete darkness. But for 14 days over the next seven months, the Ten Commandments scroll, known to scholars as 4Q41, will make a rare public appearance at the Israel Museum as part of a new exhibit called 'A Brief History of Humankind,' a show based on the international best-selling book by Israeli polymath Yuval Noah Harari."

Erik Loomis of LG&M: "It looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal has had her Last Fuckable Day at the ripe old age of 37:

... Sharon Waxman of the Wrap: "Every time we think things are getting better for women in Hollywood, something comes along to remind us — naaah. Maggie Gyllenhaal ... revealed that she was recently turned down for a role in a movie because she was too old to play the love interest for a 55-year-old man."

Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker: "Now that [David] Letterman’s a flinty codger, an establishment figure, it’s become difficult to recall just how revolutionary his style of meta-comedy once felt. But back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist."

     ... Here's the page for the property.

AP: "The suburban New York home where F Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have written The Great Gatsby is for sale. A spokeswoman for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage said on Wednesday that the asking price for the manor home on Long Island was just over US$3.8m (A$4.8m).... The home is in the village of Great Neck Estates, about 20 miles (32km) from Manhattan.

After years of signing "-BO" at the end of @BarackObama to signal the tweets he crafted himself from an account operated by the Organizing for Action staff, the President now has his very own handle @POTUS, tweeting for the first time: 'Hello, Twitter! It's Barack. Really! Six years in, they're finally giving me my own account.'... Per a statement from the White House, the @POTUS handle 'will serve as a new way for President Obama to engage directly with the American people, with tweets coming exclusively from him.'"

The $5MM Ankle. New York Post: "Shakedown artist Al Sharpton’s eldest child wants $5 million from city taxpayers after she fell in the street and sprained her ankle, court rec­ords show. Dominique Sharpton, 28, says she was 'severely injured, bruised and wounded' when she stumbled over uneven pavement at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway downtown last year, according to a lawsuit."

My friend Jan C. sent me a list of actual complaints made by dissatisfied travelers who had gone on excursions organized by the British Thomas Cook Vacations. An example: "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair."

New York Times: "The most striking geographical pattern on marriage, as with so many other issues today, is the partisan divide. Spending childhood nearly anywhere in blue America — especially liberal bastions like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington — makes people about 10 percentage points less likely to marry relative to the rest of the country. And no place encourages marriage quite like the conservative Mountain West, especially the heavily Mormon areas of Utah, southern Idaho and parts of Colorado." ...

Matt Seitz in New York notes that the pilot for "Mad Men" repeatedly points to the series' conclusion. ...

Gabriel Sherman of New York: "Tomorrow morning [Wednesday, May 13], in what marks a tectonic shift in the publishing industry, the New York Times is expected to officially begin a long-awaited partnership with Facebook to publish articles directly to the social media giant.... According to people familiar with the negotiations, the Times will begin publishing select articles directly into Facebook's news feed. Buzzfeed, NBC News and NatGeo are said to be also joining the roll out, among others. The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times." ...

... New York Times Update: "— Facebook’s long-rumored plan to directly host articles from news organizations will start on Wednesday, concluding months of delicate negotiations between the Internet giant and publishers that covet its huge audience but fear its growing power. Nine media companies, including NBC News and The New York Times, have agreed to the deal, despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses. The program will begin with a few articles but is expected to expand quickly.... Most important for impatient smartphone users, the company says, the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site." ...

.... Here's Facebook's announcement.

Nell Scovell in New York: Dave Letterman' former writers reminisce about jokes they wrote & pitched but which Letterman rejected. Letterman comments.

Vermeil placecard holders, a favorite "souvenir" of White House guests.... Washington Post: Petty thieves show up at White House state dinner -- all the time. Many guests at state dinners & other functions just can't resist taking home mementos, some of them pricey. "While the chief usher’s office monitors exactly what goes out with each place setting when the first family entertains, there is no formal accounting of how much taxpayers must pay each year to replace items that are gone by the end of the night."

Washington Post: The law finally catches up with Frank Freshwater, who escaped from prison in 1959.

Washington Post: Tesla plans to market a home battery system that draws power from solar panels or the power grid to use during outages. It holds up to 10 kw-hours, about 1/3 of what it takes to power an average home for a day. Tesla plans to make the system avalable by the end of this summer.

Conan O'Brien in Entertainment Weekly: "Not one single writer/performer in the last 35 years has had Dave [Letterman]’s seismic impact on comedy.... In today’s’ world of 30 late night programs, it’s tempting now to take Dave for granted. Do not. Dave was a true revolution.... Like all revolutions, it was such a seismic shift that it was disorienting and a bit messy at first, and it has taken us time to realize the sheer magnitude of the shift."

White House: "For a new state china service, First Lady Michelle Obama wanted it to have modern elements, but also for it to be practical, in the sense that it would be complementary to the preceding historic state services. The Obama State China Service consists of eleven-piece place settings for 320":

Timothy Simon of "Veep" gets ready to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, which is Saturday, April 25:

... Cecily Strong of “Saturday Night Live will headline the event.

MOOCS! Washington Post: For $45, anyone can become a freshman at Arizona State University. "Students can take classes online for a fee, then decide whether to pay reduced tuition for the credits."

The Sex Life of David Brooks is apparently intensely interesting to Villagers who do not participate in it.

Washington Post: "Gaioz Nigalidze’s rise through the ranks of professional chess began in 2007, the year the first iPhone was released. In hindsight, the timing might not be coincidental." During a competition in Dubai, the Georgian grandmaster allegedly hid an iPhone in the bathroom, then consulted a chess app during play.

CBS News: "'Face the Nation' Host Bob Schieffer announced Sunday that CBS News political director John Dickerson will become the new host of 'Face the Nation' this summer when he retires." CW: So "Face the Nation" is going to become even worse. Follows the well-established pattern of Sunday morning "news" shows.

New York Times: "Bob Schieffer, a television anchor who has worked at CBS for nearly half a century and interviewed every sitting president since Richard Nixon, announced Wednesday night that he was retiring this summer. Mr. Schieffer, 78, made the announcement while giving an address at Texas Christian University, his alma mater." CW: This will be a great disappointment to Charles Pierce, as regular readers of Pierce's posts will recognize.

I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years.... We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.... We are not talking about little green men, Stofan said. "We are talking about little microbes. -- Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA

It's definitely not an if, it's a when. -- Jeffery Newmark of NASA

... The L.A. Times story, from which the above citations come, is fascinating.

Washington Post: "The quote on the stamp originated with [Joan Walsh] Anglund.... 'Yes, that’s my quote,' Anglund said Monday night from her Connecticut home. It appears on page 15 of her book of poems 'A Cup of Sun,' published in 1967. Only the pronouns and punctuation are changed, from 'he' in Anglund’s original to 'it' on the stamp." CW: These are forever stamps. Maybe you should rush to the Post Office & buy a pane.

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The Commentariat -- January 4, 2013

Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times: "Under intense pressure from New York and New Jersey officials, the House on Friday adopted legislation that would provide $9.7 billion to cover insurance claims filed by individuals whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The measure is the first, and least controversial, portion of a much larger aid package sought by the affected states to help homeowners and local governments recover costs associated with the storm. The House has pledged to take up the balance of the aid package on Jan. 15."

Jonathan Martin of Politico has an interesting piece on how Republican leaders are planning to head off their crazy base at the pass. Of course that's not how Martin puts it, but that's the plan -- trying to give potential Tea Party candidates the bum's rush.

Alexander Bolton of The Hill: "Most of the new class of Senate Democratic freshmen say filibuster reform should require senators to actually hold the floor and debate if they want to block legislation."

Speaker Squeaker. Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "House Speaker John A. Boehner narrowly won reelection Thursday to a second term overseeing a chamber that has proved difficult for him to manage, surviving a rebellion from the most conservative wing of the Republican caucus."

Weaker Speaker. Greg Sargent: Boehner's close victory "all but ensures that the only way the House will be able to pass solutions to our remaining problems ... will be with large blocs of Democratic support. This, in turn, risks weakening Boehner further, and means governing compromises will be very hard won in the months ahead."

The Orange Man & the Turtle Plan Ahead. Steve Benen: "... according to public comments from McConnell and Boehner, Republicans seriously believe President Obama must accept $2.7 trillion in cuts -- without raising taxes at all -- within the next two months. And if not, there will be an enormous crisis. And what is it, exactly, that GOP leaders expect to cut by $2.7 trillion? Oddly enough, they haven't said...." ...

... Benen again, on the same topic: "President Obama may not want to negotiate over the debt ceiling, but as far as the GOP is concerned, the president doesn't have 'any choice.' ... One of the things I worry about at this stage is a false sense of routinization -- much of the political world has already started to look at debt-ceiling fights as routine, which is the exact opposite of reality. It's a manufactured crisis -- and a legitimate national scandal -- that was largely unthinkable before 2011, which the GOP hopes to normalize with the media's help."

Kevin Drum: "Spending isn't our big problem. The recession spike of 2008 aside, it's about the same as it was 30 years ago. But instead of paying for that spending, we've repeatedly cut taxes, which are now at their lowest level in half a century. Tax revenue will go up as the economy improves, but even five years from now it will still be lower than it was when Reagan took office.So what's our real problem? That's simple: America is getting older and healthcare costs are rising. That means we'll need to spend more money in the future on Social Security and Medicare. There's simply no way around that unless we're willing to immiserate our elderly...."

The Petulance Plan. Oddly enough, Jonathan Chait thinks Boehner's plan to never, ever negotiate with President Obama is batshit crazy.

Mention of batshit crazy is apt to bring to mind Michele Bachman. Adam Peck of Think Progress: "The 112th Congress gaveled to a close on Thursday afternoon without passing a relief package for victims of Hurricane Sandy or reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, but [at 12 noon Thursday] Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) ... introduced the very first piece of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which states are now busily implementing. House Republicans have unsuccessfully voted 33 times in the last two years to eliminate health care reform and wasted at least 88 hours and $50 million...." ...

... Speaking of La Bachmann, you might enjoy a gander at her Twitter feed. Apparently, the teeming masses are not all that impressed with her legislative chops. ...

... Nonetheless, it turns out that it is to LaKook of the North -- & a few others who switched their votes at the last minute from abstain to Boner -- that the Weeping Wallower owes his job.

Art by DonkeyHotay.What is a Speaker to do
When he barely survives a House coup
And can't take the trauma
Of seeing Obama? --
Drink up & cry boo-fuckin'-hoo.

Sorry, couldn't help myself. Thanks to Kate Madison for the punchline.




Walter Shapiro: "For all the unnecessary pyrotechnics, for all the missed opportunities over the past 18 months, rationality triumphed over ideological extremism in Washington this week. And if this precedent helps prevent America from defaulting on its debts when the government runs out of borrowing power in March, so much the better.... Mitch McConnell and John Boehner deserve muted, but sincere, applause for bringing the anti-tax Republicans back from the brink."

Ian Millhiser & Annie-Rose Strasser of Think Progress have a lovely retrospective on "Ten People We Are Grateful Are No Longer Members of Congress."

Ezra Klein bids "Good Riddance to the Rottenest Congress in History." He includes the metrics of their abysmal failures.

Paul Krugman: "... in a tactical sense the fiscal cliff ended in a modest victory for the White House. But that victory could all too easily turn into defeat in just a few weeks [if Obama doesn't hang tough on the debt limit]."

Ta Ta, Timmy. Hans Nichols of Bloomberg News: "Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner plans to leave the administration at the end of January, even if President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans haven't reached an agreement to raise the debt ceiling, according to two people familiar with the matter. After giving in to Obama's previous entreaties to stay as long as needed, Geithner has indicated to White House officials and Wall Street executives that he is unlikely to change his departure plans this time, increasing pressure on the president to name his successor at Treasury...." ...

... Rachelle Younglai of Reuters: "Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's plans to leave near the end of January put the White House in a tricky spot...." ...

... Paul Krugman: "I hate to say this, but I find this reassuring. While I have no insider information here, I've had the sense that Geithner has consistently been a voice urging the president to cave in for fear of upsetting the markets, with no real concern for the dangers of giving in to blackmail."

Dana Milbank: Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) Thursday "morning pronounced himself placated with House Speaker John Boehner's offer to have the Hurricane Sandy relief bill passed in two pieces over the next two weeks. As for him [sic.] criticizing his fellow Republicans' 'indifference,' 'disregard' and 'cavalier attitude,' the lawmaker said, 'I stand by what I said at the time.' But he's revising and extending his remarks. 'John is really a voice of reason in our conference, despite some of the things I said yesterday,' King told [Matt] Lauer" of NBC News. ...

... CW: Yesterday I linked to a post by Alex Koppelman of the New Yorker on how our recidivist Congress won't do anything to give the nation a better future -- like prepare the East Coast to better withstand the growing incidence of hurricanes. Comes now Kevin Drum of Mother Jones with a long, fascinating piece on how children's exposure to even moderate levels of lead is a cause of violent criminal behavior later in life (I first heard about this only weeks ago, so it's still fresh info to me). But lead abatement is possible. Drum writes, "We can either attack crime at its root by getting rid of the remaining lead in our environment, or we can continue our current policy of waiting 20 years and then locking up all the lead-poisoned kids who have turned into criminals." You know, paint & gasoline no longer contain lead additives because previous Congresses said they couldn't. Now try to imagine this Congress taking Drum's advice. This is why it is so disheartening to have a Congress Full of Jerks.

Julia Preston of the New York Times: "Obama administration officials unveiled rules on Wednesday that will allow many American citizens -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- to avoid long separations from immediate family members who are illegal immigrants as they apply to become legal residents." CW: revising Draconian rules like these is the kind of thing a Romney administration would never have done. Ever. People who think the parties are equally bad just don't know what they're talking about. ...

... David Nakamura & Tara Bahrampour of the Washington Post: "The Obama administration[s decision this week to ease visa requirements for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants represents its latest move to reshape immigration through executive action, even as the White House gears up for an uncertain political fight over a far-more-sweeping legislative package in the months ahead."

They're very upset about this over in Right Wing World:

     ... Please, Wolf, you have no right to tell our Tea Party golden boy he can't have everything his way.

One-Man Senate. CW: I meant to run this yesterday & forgot. Harry Reid on New Year's Day:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg discusses gun control on Jimmy Fallon's show:

American Injustice

** James Downie of the Washington Post: "The only reason for inaction [on the Violence Against Women Act] from [Eric] Cantor and others, frankly, is that many House Republicans simply do not truly care about women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. Women, in turn, will rightly continue to shun the Republican Party."

** Ethan Bronner of the New York Times: "... laws are needed to remove [DNA] databases from the exclusive grip of prosecutors and law enforcement to make them available to defense lawyers." CW: couldn't agree more. In a system where an accused is presumed innocent, why shouldn't a convicted criminal be given access to information that might re-establish his innocence? Again & again, prosecutors have proved to be little dictators who will do anything to save a conviction, even when there is significant exculpatory evidence. Let's put a tiny bit more justice in our so-called justice system.


Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times: "President Obama's inaugural planning committee will announce this morning that -- surprise! -- Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will deliver the oath of office to Mr. Obama when he is sworn in for a second term later this month.... The president gets to pick who will swear him in, and Mr. Obama has selected the chief justice to deliver not one, but two, oaths to him: first in a small official ceremony at the White House at noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, the constitutionally mandated date and hour for the swearing-in, and again as part of the public inaugural festivities scheduled for Monday, Jan. 21." CW: let's see if Roberts can properly recite the oath this time.

Senate Race

Kevin Robillard of Politico: "Barney Frank, one day out of Congress, said on Friday that he has asked Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to send him back as an interim senator when Sen. John Kerry becomes secretary of state.... Frank said he wouldn't run for Kerry's seat in a special election, which would most likely take place this summer. Other names mentioned as a possible caretaker for Kerry's seat include former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and former Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall -- who crafted the historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the Bay State."

Regrets Analysis. Howard Schneider
of the Washington Post: "Consider it a mea culpa submerged in a deep pool of calculus and regression analysis: The International Monetary Fund’s top economist [Thursday] acknowledged that the fund blew its forecasts for Greece and other European economies because it did not fully understand how government austerity efforts would undermine economic growth." CW: when are people gonna figure out Krugman is (almost) always right?

News Ledes

Bloomberg News: "Employers added workers in December at about the same pace as the prior month, and the unemployment rate matched a four-year low, showing sustained gains in the U.S. labor market even as lawmakers were struggling to reach a budget deal."

New York Times: "The Securities and Exchange Commission has decided not to file insider trading charges against David L. Sokol, a onetime top lieutenant at Berkshire Hathaway, Mr. Sokol's lawyer said Thursday. Mr. Sokol came under scrutiny in 2011 after abruptly resigning as chairman of Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy Holdings, one of the many holdings of the investment conglomerate run by the billionaire Warren E. Buffett."

AP: "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is being treated for 'respiratory deficiency' after complications from a severe lung infection, his government said, pointing to a deepening crisis for the ailing 58-year-old president. Chavez hasn't spoken publicly or been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba, and the latest report from his government Thursday night increased speculation that he is unlikely to be able to be sworn in for another term as scheduled in less than a week."

AP: "A 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting girls' education has been released from a Birmingham, [England,] hospital to live with her family, doctors said Friday. Photographs released by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham showed Malala Yousufzai hugging nurses, waving and smiling shyly."

ABC News: "U.S. Sen. Michael Crapo is facing a hearing Friday in a Virginia court on a drunken driving charge. The Idaho Republican has said he doesn't plan to contest the allegations." CW: Crapo, a Mormon, has said he doesn't drink.

... Washington Post Update: "Sen. Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) pleaded guilty Friday to drunk driving following a December arrest in Alexandria, and issued a sweeping apology after a judge accepted his plea. Crapo, who appeared in Alexandria District Court, was sentenced to 180 days in jail, all of which was suspended. His license was suspended for a year, but he's eligible for a restricted license. Crapo must also pay a $250 fine and complete an alcohol program over the next year."


The Commentariat -- January 3, 2013

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on Maureen Dowd's fluff piece on Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

As of shortly after 1:00 pm ET today, all of the people pictured will be U.S. Senators.Gee, I've found them some swell dates for the sock-hop:

... Now, isn't that special?

C-SPAN: "At 1 p.m. [ET], Vice President Joe Biden will conduct a ceremonial swearing-in [of new Senators] with each member just outside the Senate Chamber, which can be attended by the Senators' families. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) returns to the Senate tomorrow after suffering a stroke in January 2012. After re-learning how to walk over the last year, the Senator plans to climb the steps of the Capitol building at 11:30 a.m. Vice President Joe Biden, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to attend." CW: C-SPAN will have live coverage of both events.

Harry Reid Trick. Manu Raju of Politico: "He has a chance to go 'nuclear' Thursday, but instead Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to punt a decision on the filibuster until later this month.... Changing filibuster rules by 51 votes on the first day of a new session, circumventing the usual requirement in which at least 67 senators are needed to change Senate rules. Instead, he'll employ a circuitous procedure to technically keep the Senate in its first legislative day by sending the chamber into recess -- rather than adjourning. That move would keep the Senate in session, preserving his option of pushing forward with the so-called nuclear option at a later date." ...

... To help get Reid off the dime, you can sign Sen. Jeff Merkley's (D-Oregon) petition to reform the filibuster.

Michael Grynbaum of the New York Times: "Chris Christie, the New Jersey governor, a Republican and possible presidential candidate with a reputation for take-no-prisoners bluster, attacked the House Republican leadership on Wednesday for its refusal to allow a vote on a Hurricane Sandy relief bill the night before." ...

... Gov. Christie, at a New Jersey State House press conference:

    ... You can watch the full presser here. "They [the House of Representatives] are so consumed with their own internal politics, that they have forgotten they have a job to do." ...

... Molly Ball of The Atlantic: "Christie's emotional diatribe seemed both utterly authentic and politically brilliant. There's basically zero political downside in campaigning against Congress, and particularly the House GOP, right now.... Christie is up for reelection this year in his very blue home state, and by turning his legendary temper on the GOP, he's helped turned his image from partisan ball-buster to nobly apolitical, equal-opportunity ball-buster."

..."Dereliction of Duty." New York Times Editors: "Mr. Boehner had promised to allow the House to vote this week on a $60.4 billion aid package [to states hit by Hurricane Sandy] that easily passed the Senate. But he reneged while trying to get out of the way of a final agreement on the fiscal cliff.... Whether Mr. Boehner can revive the Senate package in a few weeks, as now promised, is uncertain, because it's not clear whether he actually leads the right-dominated Republican caucus anymore.... The aid was overdue before Mr. Boehner tossed the Senate package aside on Tuesday." ...

... Dave Weigel of Slate: "Republicans allowed a familiar narrative -- oh, the bill's full of pork and waste! -- to creep out. [Here's an example on a site owned by severely winged-out Michelle Malkin of the creeps creeping. There are many more.] Christie mocks the narrative in the single boldest part of this rant. The 'pork,' he points out, was $600 million in a total $60 billion package -- one percent of the total. The Republicans who got angry about that, he says, are dupes. 'Those guys should spend a little more time reading the information we send and a little less time reading the talking points sent by their staff. That's quite an ask. Making fun of waste in an omnibus bill is one of the GOP's most effective tactics...." In an Update, Weigel notes that the Boner "now pledges a Friday vote on the smaller chunk of Sandy relief -- $9 billion for flood insurance -- then more votes on January 15." But since the new Congress will be sworn in today, the bills will have to go back to the new Senate for passage. ...

... ** Alex Koppelman of the New Yorker: "House Republicans didn't simply forget about the Sandy-relief legislation in the excitement of the fiscal-cliff deal. The bill stalled and died because many of them -- joined by key conservative activists and think tanks -- flat out opposed the version the Senate passed. They opposed it because, they said, half -- or more -- of the sixty billion dollars of funding contained in the bill was what they called 'pork.' A more accurate term would be 'foresight.' The legislation ... would have paid for ... forward-thinking measures, and that was the funding conservatives had a problem with." Read the whole post. CW: funny how the Luddites cry "Save our children from debts we incurred" but they oppose saving our children from floods or unsafe bridges or hazardous waste. Kinda makes you think just maybe they don't actually care about the kiddies.

NEW. Paul Krugman explains why the federal government can't just print money money or mint a giant platinum coin & deposit it at the Fed to get around the debt limit.

Michael Shear & Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "Even as Republicans vow to leverage a needed increase in the federal debt limit to make headway on their demands for deep spending cuts, Mr. Obama --who reluctantly negotiated a deal like that 18 months ago -- says he has no intention of ever getting pulled into another round of charged talks on the issue with Republicans on Capitol Hill." ...

... A New Path to Progress? Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: McConnell + Biden + Reid, "Then both Senate leaders worked hard to deliver the votes of a vast majority of their reluctant members, isolating House Republican leaders, who found themselves with no way forward other than to put the bill before the House and let Democrats push it over the finish line. 'I think this is the fourth time that we've seen this play out, where Boehner finally relents and lets the House consider a measure, and Democrats provide the votes to pass it,' said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois [D]." ...

... Russell Berman of The Hill: "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is signaling that at least one thing will change about his leadership during the 113th Congress: he's telling Republicans he is done with private, one-on-one negotiations with President Obama."

** Gail Collins: "... the bar is low [for the new Congress to be sworn in this week], since some people believe the departing 112th Congress was the worst in history, because of its stupendous lack of productivity and a favorability rating that once polled lower than the idea of a Communist takeover of America." Includes extended remarks on South Carolina.

Charles Blow on the dysfunctional Congress. Nothing new here, but this is a good bit:

As The Economist pointed out in November: 'The Democrats won 50.6% of the votes for president, to 47.8% for the Republicans; 53.6% of the votes for the Senate, to 42.9% for the Republicans; and... 49% of the votes for the House, to 48.2% for the Republicans (some ballots are still being counted). That's not a vote for divided government. It's a clean sweep.' Republicans control the House in part because of the geography of ideology -- cities tend to have high concentrations of Democrats and rural areas have high concentrations of Republicans -- and because of the way district lines were redrawn, in many cases by Republican-led state legislatures.

Cliff Notes -- Post Mortems

David Jackson of USA Today: "President Obama, vacationing in Hawaii, employed an autopen to sign the 'fiscal cliff' bill late Wednesday night, the third time he has used such a device. In a statement, the White House said officials received the bill from Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, Washington time."

Ron Lieber of the New York Times: "The new rules [in the tax-&-spending bill] target two tax breaks: personal exemptions and many popular deductions like those for state and local taxes, mortgage interest and charitable contributions. For both breaks, single people with at least $250,000 in adjusted gross income and married people filing jointly with at least $300,000 in income are vulnerable. A hypothetical Texas couple could end up paying about $2,500 more in taxes, for instance." The New York Times provides a table showing how the tax might affect two hypothetical families with adjusted gross incomes of $400K.

Best Post Mortem. CW: I don't entirely agree with Jonathan Chait, but his use of "The Big Lebowski" to explain the tax-&-spending negotiations is damned clever. I do think House Republican leadership will blink on the debt ceiling. Sending the U.S. into effective bankruptcy is just too stupid even for them. Boehner, or whosoever should happen to be Speaker next month (see Right Wing World below), will let Democrats & the few non-crazy Republicans authorize raising the debt limit. (What they should do is dump the law permanently, & I'll be pleasantly stunned if that happens.) That said, see also Charlie Brown & Lucy below. ...

... Also, Noam Scheiber of The New Republic is expressing a general-consensus view here: "... here's what the fiscal cliff accomplished then: It affirmed to Republicans that Obama will do pretty much anything he can to avoid a debt default, regardless of what he says. It affirmed the White House anxiety that the GOP might not blink before we default. To put it mildly, that's quite an asymmetry. I want to believe the president can get through the next stage in this endless budget stalemate without accepting some of the more dangerous spending cuts conservatives are demanding. But at this point I'm having a hard time seeing it." CW: I'm with Scheiber on the 2nd part: Obama will give up half the farm (the half where the farmhands bunk), but I don't think it will be over the debt ceiling -- I think it will be on the sequester deal. To all you old ladies & gents, to all you hungry children, to all you college kids -- the President wishes you well, he'd like to help, but in the end, he expects you to tighten your little belts another notch.

Barack Robin Hood Obama. David Leonhardt of the New York Times: "For President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress, the fiscal deal reached this week is full of small victories that further their largest policy aims. Above all, it takes another step toward Mr. Obama's goal of orienting federal policy more toward the middle class and the poor, at the expense of the rich.... In the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama said that his top priority as president would be to 'create bottom-up economic growth' and reduce inequality. He has governed as such."

Most Optimistic Post Mortem. Here's a note my friend Barack sent me yesterday:

NEW. A Strong Contender for Most Pessimistic Post Mortem. Frank Rich on "the end of the 'Fiscal Cliff' crisis, Howard Schulz's bipartisanship fetish, and John Roberts's latest political play." CW: to my personal delight, Rich even takes a stab at his former colleague, "ostensibly moderate conservative David Brooks."

Chuck Mikolajczak of Reuters: "U.S. stocks kicked off the new year with their best day in over a year on Wednesday, sparked by relief over a last-minute deal in Washington to avert the 'fiscal cliff' of tax hikes and spending cuts that threatened to derail the economy's growth." CW: see my stock market widget in the upper right-hand column.

E. J. Dionne: "... we should at least consider the possibility that this week's Midnight Madness was actually a first step down a better road. This will be true if Obama hangs as tough as he now says he will; if he insists on more revenue in the next round of discussions; and if he immediately begins mobilizing business leaders to force Republicans off a strategy that would use threats to block a debt-ceiling increase to extract spending cuts. Real patriots do not risk wrecking the economy to win a political fight. Obama ... needs to move the discussion away from a green-eyeshade debate over budgets and foster a larger conversation over what it will take to restore broadly shared economic growth. His presidency really does depend on how he handles the next two months."

Wherein Lucy is Obama and we are all Charlie Brown.James Downie of the Washington Post on the pluses and minuses in the fiscal deal. Plus, "... soon, for the second time in two years, the GOP will threaten the country with economic ruin (via forcing the government to default on its bills) to advance its agenda. This is nothing less than the behavior of a party that has abdicated all responsibility for governing." Downie is the umpteenth pundit to make this point: "The legacy of this [tax-&-spending] deal almost entirely depends on whether Obama stands firm on the debt ceiling." CW: supporting Obama is like entering into a second marriage: it's "the triumph of hope over experience."

Steve Benen: the House GOP blocked reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which the Senate reauthorized, with bipartisan support, back in April. For the first time since 1994, the law has expired. ...

... Eric Dolan of the Raw Story has more.

Mark Follman of Mother Jones: "... the NRA's argument [that 'arming the good guys' would save lives] is bereft of supporting evidence. A closer look reveals that their case for arming Americans against mass shooters is nothing more than a cynical ideological talking point -- one dressed up in appeals to heroism and the defense of constitutional freedom, and wholly reliant on misdirection and half truths.... Not a single one of the 62 mass shootings we studied in our investigation has been stopped this way -- even as the nation has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of recent laws has made it easier than ever for ordinary citizens to carry them in public places, including bars, parks, and schools.

... CW: I seldom link letters to the editor, but here's a good one to the New York Times from psychiatrists Daniel Rosen & Steven Roth: "As psychiatrists, we place great value on the importance on preserving patient confidentiality. Despite this, we suggest the creation of a national database to help prevent individuals who have been involuntarily psychiatrically hospitalized (the constitutional basis for which is dangerousness) from acquiring guns."

Nicholas Kristof: "Tens of thousands of [Chinese] censors delete references to human rights, but they ignore countless Chinese Web sites peddling drugs, guns or prostitutes. Doesn't it seem odd that China blocks Facebook, YouTube and The New York Times but shrugs at, say, guns?"

Right Wing World *

* Where there is much breathless ado about sending the Orange Man back to his little desk on a back bench.

Ed Kilgore: "The Breitbartians are trying to stir up speculation that Boehner could be 'knocked out' of the speakership if he fails to win on the first ballot, but only if an alternative like Eric Cantor quickly emerges."

D. S. Wright of Firedoglake: "It’s being reported that there are 20 Republicans [which is all it takes] ... willing to band together to unseat John Boehner. The only real success of the 'fiscal cliff' vote may have been the destabilizing of the House Republicans."

News Ledes

Washington Post: "The Federal Trade Commission handed Google a victory Thursday when it ended its nearly two-year-long investigation of the search giant by finding that it had not unfairly promoted its own products over those of its rivals and accepting voluntary concessions from the company over display tactics and patent licensing. The negotiated settlement, which falls far short of what a coalition of competitors had demanded, will result in few if any visible changes in how hundreds of millions of consumers use the world's most popular search engine."

New York Times: "President Obama set aside his veto threat and late Wednesday signed a defense bill that imposes restrictions on transferring detainees out of military prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But Mr. Obama attached a signing statement claiming that he has the constitutional power to override the limits in the law."

Reuters: "Private-sector employers shrugged off a looming budget crisis and stepped up hiring in December, offering further evidence of underlying strength in the economy as 2012 ended. While other data on Thursday showed an increase in the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits, the trend remained consistent with steady job growth."

AP: "More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, though the winter holidays likely distorted the data for the second straight week. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 372,000 in the week ended Dec. 29. The previous week's total was revised higher."

New York Times: "An American drone strike killed a top Pakistani militant commander in a northwestern tribal region, security officials said on Thursday. The death of Maulvi Nazir was seen as a serious blow to Taliban fighters who attack United States and allied forces in neighboring Afghanistan."

Washington Post: "The Obama administration acted lawfully in refusing to disclose information about its targeted killings of terrorism suspects, including the 2011 drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen..., [Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York] ruled Wednesday. But the judge also described a 'veritable Catch-22' of security rules that allow the executive branch to declare legal 'actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.'"

Reuters: "Hundreds of the children [who attend the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut] ... head back to classes on Thursday for the first time since a gunman killed 20 of their schoolmates and six staff members.... Chalk Hill Middle School, closed about a year and half ago, has been hastily refurbished in the three weeks since the December 14 attack and renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School."

New York Times: "Rape, murder and other charges were filed on Thursday against five men suspected of carrying out the gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who later died of her injuries in a case that has prompted outrage and protests across India."


The Commentariat -- January 2, 2013

My column in today's New York Times eXaminer is on New York Times analyses of tax-and-spending negotiations.

Cliff Notes

John Bresnahan, et al., of Politico tell some behind-the-scenes tales of the negotiations.

It Takes a Woman. CW: Meanwhile, I looked in vain for a substantive story on the role of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was, after all, responsible for getting the bill through the House, even if she had a little help from Vice President Biden, and in the end, a significant number of votes from Boehner's crowd. Instead, we read about the Big Boys throwing tantrums, walking out on negotiations, making obscene remarks to one another, etc. Pelosi, she just does her job.

President Obama made remarks late Tuesday after the House passed the tax-and-spending bill:

Ginger Gibson of Politico: "The Republican House leadership split its vote late Tuesday night on the fiscal cliff deal that received bipartisan support in both chambers before heading to the president.Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) voted in favor of the measure. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) voted against the legislation, as did Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.). House Budget Committee Chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan voted in favor of the deal. The leadership schism reflected a general split in the House GOP conference, in which 151 Republicans voted against the deal and 85 GOPers voted for it."

** Rosalind Helderman & Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post: "The House late Tuesday gave final approval to a Senate-backed bill that will let taxes rise for the richest Americans, shield the middle class from tax hikes and extend emergency unemployment benefits, ending Washington's long drama over the 'fiscal cliff.' The dramatic vote followed a wild day in which the critical measure was assumed for several hours to be headed for defeat because of widespread Republican objections. The vote was 257 to 167, with 85 Republicans joining with nearly all of the chamber's Democrats. President Obama, whose vice president, Joe Biden, crafted the deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was preparing to address the nation."

** "By a vote of 257-167 the House has passed HR 8, the Tax Relief Extension Act, which the Senate passed early Tuesday morning by a vote of 89 to 8." -- C-SPAN.

Go fuck yourself.... Go fuck yourself. -- House Speaker John Boehner, in a public face-to-face encounter with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, shortly after Reid said on the Senate floor that Boehner was running the House like a dictatorship

Greg Sargent: "If yesterday's events were such a horrific defeat for the GOP, as many conservatives are telling us, it's only because Republican leaders have spent months or years drumming it into GOP base voters' heads that the most modest of tax increases on the very richest among us would constitute a sellout of deeply sacred principles.... For many House Republicans, this idea -- and the broader refusal to compromise at any cost -- seems to have become a deeply held and guiding governing principle."

Josh Barro of Bloomberg News again on "House Republicans' rational idiocy."

The Intertoobz are full of "I Hate This Deal" stories from the left, so here's one from Joshua Holland of AlterNet. You can look up others yourself. ...

... Though I would recommend this take by Charles Pierce: "I continue to be pessimistic about the whole business."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Just a few years ago, the tax deal pushed through the Senate in the early hours on Tuesday would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy, a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president's credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed gently. But times have changed.... The latest stalemate on Capitol Hill surprised even many Senate Republicans.... House Republicans have again proved themselves to be a new breed, less enamored of tax cuts per se than they are driven to shrink the government through steep spending cuts."

Drunken GOP Senators Vote for Half a Bill. -- Darrell Issa. Igor Volsky of Think Progress: "House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) ... joked that Senators may have been drunk when they passed the measure in the early hours of Jan 1.... [Issa told CNN's Wolf Blitzer:] 'You know, Wolf, frankly I can't account for what happens after midnight and all of that partying and revelry and drinking that goes on New Years Eve at 2:00 in the morning. What I can tell you is they did half of a bill."

Lori Montgomery & Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "House Republicans reversed course Tuesday evening and charted a course toward likely passage of the bipartisan agreement struck in the Senate to avoid the worst effects of the 'fiscal cliff,' setting up a late-night vote to complete a dramatic day in which the critical legislation appeared to be endangered for several hours. In a second meeting with GOP members Tuesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) outlined the options for handling the Senate plan while explaining the high 'risk' involved with approving a different bill that might die in the other chamber, according to lawmakers exiting the evening session." ...

     ... New York Times story, by Jennifer Steinhauer, here.

Domenico Montanaro of NBC News: "Today, in the opening prayer at the start of the House session at noon ET, [Patrick Conroy,] the House chaplain, made a rare appeal to the heavens for compromise."

Rosalind Helderman, et al., of the Washington Post: "The bipartisan agreement struck in the Senate to avoid the worst effects of the 'fiscal cliff'' ran into strong opposition in the Republican-controlled House on Tuesday, with GOP members criticizing the deal for raising taxes without cutting spending. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the influential House majority leader, emerged from a two-hour meeting with GOP colleagues and said he opposes the Senate bill, which would let income taxes rise sharply on the rich. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Cantor 'forcefully' expressed his concerns during the closed -door session, during which other GOP members expressed grave doubts about the agreement. Cantor's opposition likely dooms the chances for fast House passage of the legislation without changes, which could prolong efforts to avert the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that technically took effect on Tuesday."

The Washington Post's liveblog is here. And stuff is happening.

Peter Schroeder of The Hill: "The Senate deal to avoid the 'fiscal cliff' will add roughly $4 trillion to the deficit when compared to current law, according to new numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)." CW: this is because the CBO assumed the Bush tax cuts would expire and also takes into account "the addition of a permanent patch to the alternative minimum tax."

Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center: "... sometime soon, lawmakers will almost certainly have to dip back into the tax code for more revenue, making the details of the fiscal cliff deal ephemeral. In short, this budget agreement will accomplish next to nothing. Congress is only buying time -- and precious little of it." Via John Cassidy of the New Yorker.

Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly: "This Congress is scheduled to end on Thursday at Noon, so it's beginning to look increasingly possible that the whole negotiation process will have to begin again with a slightly different configuration of players."

Dr. David Newman, an emergency room physician at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in a New York Times op-ed: "I do not know exactly what measures should be taken to reduce gun violence like this. But I know that most homicides and suicides in America are carried out with guns. Research suggests that homes with a gun are two to three times more likely to experience a firearm death than homes without guns, and that members of the household are 18 times more likely to be the victim than intruders. I know that in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 400 American children (age 14 and under) were killed with a firearm and nearly 1,000 were injured. That means that this week we can expect 26 more children to be injured or killed with a firearm."

These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they're out raising millions of dollars. They're in New York all the time filling their pockets with money from New Yorkers. I'm saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.... As far as I'm concerned, I'm on my own. They're going to have to go a long way to get my vote on anything. -- Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) ...

... Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times: "A bill to provide tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to states pummeled by Hurricane Sandy was in danger of dying Tuesday night as the House seemed headed for adjournment without taking up the legislation." CW: apparently House leadership was too busy having histrionics. Jerks. ...

... Larry Margasak of the AP: "New York area-lawmakers in both parties erupted in anger late Tuesday night after learning the House Republican leadership decided to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for victims of Superstorm Sandy. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said he was told by the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia that Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had decided to abandon a vote this session.... In remarks on the House floor, King called the decision 'absolutely inexcusable, absolutely indefensible. We cannot just walk away from our responsibilities.'" CW: These are your people, Pete.

Conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker is sick of the right's "vicious, disheartening & disgusting" character assassination of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Of course Parker has to mute her outrage by blaming "both sides," even though she doesn't bother to cite a single case where Democrats similarly attacked Republicans.

Wow! Austerity Works! Andrew Higgins of the New York Times on how Latvia's economy is improving, thanks to strict governmental austerity measures. Read the whole article & draw your own conclusions. Or, here's Krugman, in an October post. And in a July post.

Tom Shanker of the New York Times compares the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 to the U.S. withdrawal.

News Ledes

New York Times: "Rebecca Tarbotton, an environmental activist who helped persuade big banks to stop financing mountaintop removal mining and who helped persuade Disney to reduce its use of paper made from trees cut down in rain forests, died on Dec. 26 in a swimming accident in Mexico. She was 39 and lived in Oakland, Calif."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves New York-Presbyterian Hospital with her daughter Chelsea and husband, former President Bill Clinton. Reuters photo.New York Times: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday evening, after several days of treatment for a blood clot in a vein in her head."

Politico: "Shortly after the House passed a deal averting the fiscal cliff, the White House announced President Obama will be heading to Hawaii to finish out his vacation." He may return to Washington, D.C., January 6.

AP: "Gov. Tom Corbett [R-Penns.] scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit against the NCAA over stiff sanctions imposed against Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal."


Happy New Year, 2013!

** Eric Foner, in a New York Times op-ed: "ONE hundred and fifty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln presided over the annual White House New Year’s reception. Late that afternoon, he retired to his study to sign the Emancipation Proclamation..., perhaps the most misunderstood of the documents that have shaped American history." Here's the text of the Proclamation.

Cliff Notes

Andy Borowitz: "Official Washington was in celebration mode on New Year's Day after kind of averting a completely unnecessary crisis that was entirely of its own creation. 'This deal proves that if we all procrastinate long and hard enough, we can semi-solve any self-inflicted problem at the very last minute in a way that satisfies no one,' said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)."

NEW. Jake Sherman & Carrie Brown of Politico: "An overwhelming number of House Republicans in a party meeting are calling on their leadership to amend the Senate's bill to avert the fiscal cliff and send it back to the upper chamber, according to several sources in the Tuesday afternoon meeting.GOP leadership has not made a decision on what to do with the Senate-passed tax hike bill." ...

     ... UPDATE: "A carefully-crafted Senate compromise to avert the fiscal cliff could be in jeopardy, as House Republicans seem nearly certain to tweak the legislation and send it back to the Senate because it doesn't contain sufficient spending cuts.... In a real sign of trouble, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor ... came out in opposition to the package."

Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times: "House Republicans were planning to meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the Senate legislation.... Representative Nancy Pelosi of California ... said she would also present the plan to House Democrats and Mr. Biden, who helped sell the deal to Senate Democrats on Monday night, was set to meet with members of his party in the House just after noon. With just two days to go before a new Congress convenes, the House has essentially three choices: reject the bill, pass it as written by the Senate..., or amend the bill and quickly return it across the rotunda to the Senate." ...

     ... NEW LEDE: "House Republicans reacted with anger Tuesday afternoon to a Senate-passed plan to head off automatic tax increases and spending cuts, putting the fate of the legislation in doubt just hours after it appeared Congress was nearing a resolution of the fiscal crisis."

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "The Senate, in a pre-dawn vote two hours after the deadline passed to avert automatic tax increases, overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday that would allow tax rates to rise only on affluent Americans while temporarily suspending sweeping, across-the-board spending cuts.... Under the agreement, tax rates would jump to 39.6 percent from 35 percent for individual incomes over $400,000 and couples over $450,000, while tax deductions and credits would start phasing out on incomes as low as $250,000, a clear victory for President Obama, who ran for re-election vowing to impose taxes on the wealthy. Just after the vote, Mr. Obama called for quick House passage of the legislation."

The full text of the Senate bill is here. It's 157 pages.

The Times has a table of what's in the bill. The one I don't understand is "Reinstates provisions that phase out personal exemptions and deductions for incomes over $200,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples." ...

... Update: I did some digging: In an October post, Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post wrote, "The current tax code includes another way to limit tax deductions for high earners: the Pease limit. Named after its author, former Democratic congressman Donald J. (Don) Pease (Ohio), the limit establishes a cutoff ($177,550 in 2013) and then reduces deductions by 3 percent of the amount by which a household's income exceeds that cutoff, up to a maximum reduction of 80 percent." So that cutoff number of $177,550 has been increased to $300K for couples. As Ezra Klein explained in a November post, "This would raise the effective tax rate on higher-income households by about 1.2 percentage points and generate about $9 billion annually...." In addition, Klein wrote, "The Bush tax cuts also eliminated the personal exemption phase-out (PEP) If that's restored, then single individual filers with incomes above $170,000 and married joint filers above $265,000 would see some or most of their personal exemption deductions eliminated. (Their average deduction is about $3,800.) ... PEP would generate about $3 billion annually." So that $170K cutoff is now at $250K for couples. The calculations of revenue generation are for the lower cutoffs, so obviously, the new law will produce less revenue. (If Obama/McConnell had just left this alone, BTW, the lower cutoffs would have kicked in automatically, so again, this is a concession to the no-tax-is-a-good-tax crowd.) Klein has his own rundown -- which is a bit more detailed than the Times' table -- of what's in the bill here.

Andrew Taylor of the AP: "Legislation to prevent the government from going over the so-called fiscal cliff will also block a $900 automatic pay hike for members of Congress.... Under a 1989 law, lawmakers are supposed to receive automatic cost-of-living pay hikes, but as Congress' approval ratings have fallen, lawmakers have routinely voted to reject the raise.... They had already voted in September to block the pay raise through March 27, but President Barack Obama recently issued an executive order to implement it, along with a pay increase for federal workers."

Suzy Khimm of the Washington Post reveals some winners & losers. Here are a couple of Winners: (1) Working Poor: 5-year extensions of a five-year extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit & the Child Tax Credit and a more generous college tuition tax credit. (2) Coupon Clippers: "Setting the dividend tax rate at 20 percent, however, is a significant concession to Republicans: Obama, in his most recent budget, proposed taxing dividends like ordinary income, with a top rate of 39.6 percent, as it's scheduled to revert to after Dec. 31." Obviously, Obama noticed who buttered his campaign bread.

The Closer

Another Big Winner -- Joe Biden. Peter Baker of the New York Times (Dec. 31 @ 4:30 pm): "The late entry of Mr. Biden to the tax-and-spending talks that have consumed the capital over the last two months recalls his role in the debt crisis of 2011 and once again seems to have been critical toward cutting through the deadlock. Mr. Biden was handed the ball not by President Obama but by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.... As soon as the talks boiled down to Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell, it became a relatively short path to a tentative agreement on taxes." ...

... David Fahrenthold & Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post: "The New Year's Eve agreement between Biden and McConnell provided a glimpse at the ways that personality quirks and one-to-one relationships can still change the course of Washington politics.'

Milk Cliff Flattened. Mary Clare Jalonick of the AP: "A potential doubling of milk prices will be averted as part of the compromise that White House and congressional bargainers reached on wide-ranging legislation to avert the 'fiscal cliff,' a leading senator said late Monday. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told reporters that negotiators had agreed to extend portions of the expired 2008 farm bill through September. She said that includes language keeping milk prices from rising, but excludes other provisions like energy and disaster aid for farmers."

Welcome to "the Fiscal Mountains." Rosalind Helderman of the Washington Post: "Assuming the deal is approved, it will nevertheless give way to a nearly continuous series of fights that will consume the first part of the year, even as President Obama might hope to shift Congress's attention to immigration reform and gun control. 'It's become less like a fiscal cliffhanger and more like a journey over the fiscal mountains,' said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.)."

Robert Reich, writing in the American Prospect, concurs: "Republicans haven't conceded anything on the debt ceiling, so over the next two months -- as the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default -- Republicans are likely to do exactly what they did before, which is to hold their votes on raising the debt ceiling hostage to major cuts in programs for the poor and in Medicare and Social Security." He calls it "a lousy deal," from progressives' standpoint.

Brian Beutler of TPM: "To sell Senate Democrats on a controversial plan the White House negotiated with Senate Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff, Vice President Joe Biden had to repeatedly reassure frustrated members of his own party Monday night that President Obama and Democratic leaders will not negotiate with the GOP to raise the debt ceiling in February or March."

Jonathan Weisman: "Furious last-minute negotiations between the White House and the Senate Republican leadership on Monday secured a tentative agreement to allow tax rates to rise on affluent Americans, but the measure was not going to pass in time for Congress to meet its Dec. 31 deadline for averting automatic tax increases and spending cuts deemed a threat to the economy."

** Paul Kane of the Washington Post: "President Obama and Senate Republicans reached a sweeping deal late Monday that would let income taxes rise significantly for the first time in more than 20 years, fulfilling Obama's promise to raise taxes on the rich and averting the worst effects of the 'fiscal cliff.'"

Michael O'Brien of NBC News: "The United States was set to go over the so-called fiscal cliff at midnight after the House of Representatives adjourned until noon on New Year's Day."

Our "Read My Lips" President

CW: It's poignantly appropriate that former one-term President George H. W. Bush should be in the news on the week that President Obama reneged on his own read-my-lips campaign promise: not to lower taxes on families who earned more than $250K/year. The difference: Bush gave in on his no-new-taxes pledge to cut a responsible deal; Obama has little excuse for breaking a promise that has no upside. ...

... Jared Bernstien, who used to be Joe Biden's economics guru so surely remains connected, runs down the elements of the "probably deal" and concludes, "The thing that worried me most in the endgame is that the [White House] would be so intent on a deal that they'd lock in too few revenues with no path back to the revenue well, and that they'd leave the debt ceiling hanging out there. Remember, the ultimate goal of Republicans here is still to 'starve the beast.' ... Those fears will be realized unless the President really and truly refuses to negotiate on the debt ceiling and is willing to blow past those who would stage a strategic default. If he is not, and if this cliff deal passes, then I fear the WH may have squandered its hard won leverage." CW: in short, Obama blew it again. Plus, at least he's not Mitt Romney. ...

... Noam Scheiber of The New Republic: "I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he'd previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to 'close' the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it." ...

... Paul Krugman: "Anyone looking at these negotiations, especially given Obama's previous behavior, can't help but reach one main conclusion: whenever the president says that there's an issue on which he absolutely, positively won't give ground, you can count on him, you know, giving way -- and soon, too. The idea that you should only make promises and threats you intend to make good on doesn't seem to be one that this particular president can grasp. And that means that Republicans will go right from this negotiation into the debt ceiling in the firm belief that Obama can be rolled." ...

... CW: Ryan Grim of the HuffPost, speaking on MSNBC Monday evening, made a counter-point: many Congressional Democrats are happy with the higher cut-off rate on the income tax hike. After all, their personal friends are apt to be in the $250-$450K tax bracket. If you recall, some months back, Minority Leader Pelosi was pushing $1MM-&-up taxable income for the higher rate. She quieted down on that while the President was running his campaign for raising the rate on those earning $250K & up, but I'd guess that Pelosi, among others, is right happy with raising the cut-off income figure. In short, the President's cave is a concession to the whole Congress, not just to Republicans. ...

... David Atkins of Hullabaloo adds a few other "buts', including this: "Republicans hold 234 House seats. Of those, only 15 were won by the President. There is no rational cause to believe that Republicans from districts won by the ultimate plutocrat and enemy of the '47%' Mitt Romney would be in any way intimidated by pressure from the Kenyan Socialist Anti-Christ to raise taxes on job creators or deliver more big government welfare checks to long-term unemployed parasite moochers. There is no reason to think that they wouldn't simply go on Fox News and talk radio to blame the President for all the tax increases while claiming to stand strong against a descent into a Greek deficit crisis caused by cash payments to unions and inner-city welfare recipients." CW: read the whole post. I find Atkins' POV pretty convincing. Evidently Obama does, too.

The Washington Post's liveblog is here. The New York Times is posting updates on its front page.

Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, on Monday reached agreement on a tentative deal to stave off large tax increases starting on Tuesday, but remained stuck on whether and how to stop $110 billion in across-the-board spending cuts in 2013, an official familiar with the negotiations said."

Louis Seidman
, a Constitutional scholar, in a New York Times op-ed: "... we ought to try extricating ourselves from constitutional bondage so that we can give real freedom a chance.... The deep-seated fear that disobedience [of the Constitution] would unravel our social fabric is mere superstition. As we have seen, the country has successfully survived numerous examples of constitutional infidelity. And as we see now, the failure of the Congress and the White House to agree has already destabilized the country." CW: I do like it when the smart guys catch up with my way of thinking.

Chiep Justice Roberts Thinks He Is an Economist. Adam Liptak of the New York Times: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. used his year-end report on the federal judiciary to give Congressional budget negotiators a little nudge."

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "In a long-awaited interpretation of the new health care law, the Obama administration said Monday that employers must offer health insurance to employees and their children, but will not be subject to any penalties if family coverage is unaffordable to workers."

E. J. Graff of the American Prospect looks back in anger at 2012 -- the year of the War on Women. ...

... The War Continues to the Last Day of the Year. Chris Tomlinson of the AP: "Texas can cut off funding to Planned Parenthood's family planning programs for poor women, a state judge ruled Monday. Judge Gary Harger said that Texas may exclude otherwise qualified doctors and clinics from receiving state funding if they advocate for abortion rights.... Another hearing is scheduled with a different judge for Jan. 11, where Planned Parenthood will again ask for an injunction to receive state funding."

AND Scott Lemieux of the American Prospect reviews the year in Supreme Court rulings. Justice Scalia is nastier & crazier than ever and "For progressives, the bottom line of the most recent year of the Supreme Court is that 'it could have been a lot worse.' With the Supreme Court poised to rule almost all affirmative action unconstitutional and cut out the heart of the Voting Rights Act, I'm not sure we'll be saying that this time next year."

News Ledes

New York Times: "Beate Sirota Gordon, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents who at 22 almost single-handedly wrote women's rights into the Constitution of modern Japan, and then kept silent about it for decades, only to become a feminist heroine there in recent years, died on Sunday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89."

A Bloody New Year. NBC News: "Seven people were shot, one of them fatally, during a New Year's party early Tuesday in Columbus, Ga., police said -- just one of many fatal shootings to be reported across the country as 2013 got off to a bloody start."

Reuters: "The State Department made a 'grievous mistake' in keeping the U.S. mission in Benghazi open despite inadequate security and increasingly alarming threat assessments in the weeks before a deadly attack by militants, a Senate committee said on Monday. A report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the September 11 attacks ... faulted intelligence agencies for not focusing tightly enough on Libyan extremists."

Baltimore Sun: as of today, same-sex couples can legally marry in Maryland. Meanwhile, "The ultra-conservative Westboro Baptist Church, known for picketing high-profile funerals with signs saying 'God hate' gay people, has received permits to rally in front of courthouses in Towson and Annapolis on Wednesday, police said.... Parishioners of St. Anne's, the 300-year-old Episcopal church across from the Annapolis courthouse, were planning a counter-protest the same day to 'bear witness to the good news of God's unconditional love.'"

Denver Post: "Billed as Denver's first legal private cannabis club, Club 64, met for the first time at 4:20 p.m. Monday at a Larimer Street retail store. Until further notice -- from somewhere -- enterprising cannabis enthusiasts assume it's OK to hang out to consume weed in social, yet sort of private, recreational settings."

AP: "Doctors treating Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a blood clot in her head said blood thinners are being used to dissolve the clot and they are confident she will make a full recovery."

Reuters: "The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to split a $60.4 billion Superstorm Sandy disaster aid bill into two parts, staging votes on $27 billion to fund immediate recovery needs and $33 billion for long-term and other projects...."

Reuters: "North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called for an end to confrontation between the two Koreas, technically still at war in the absence of a peace treaty to end their 1950-53 conflict, in a surprise New Year speech broadcast on state media."

AP: "Gunmen killed five female teachers and two other people on Tuesday in an ambush on a van carrying workers home from their jobs at a community center in northwest Pakistan, officials said.... Two health workers, one man and one woman, were also killed and the driver was wounded. The attack was a reminder of the risks faced by educators and aid workers, especially women, in an area where Islamic militants often target women and girls trying to get an education."

Reuters: "About 60 people were crushed to death in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan overnight [in a stampede] after a New Year's Eve fireworks display, an emergency official and state radio said on Tuesday."